Forget Hebron and Muskrat Falls – there’s a major project about to happen on the oldest street in North America.

The Water Street Infrastructure Replacement Project is currently being planned to rip up and replace century-old sewer and stormwater pipes. The prospect of such a huge disruption has struck fear in retailers and restaurateurs along the strip, as well as excitement amongst visionary urban enthusiasts.

As a St. John’s Councillor at Large who lives and works and plays in the area, and who champions small business and public engagement, I’ve made it my mission to help ensure this project is a success. A major component of that success will be communication and coordination. Right now we’re in the planning phase, and it’s going to work something like this.

Step One: Determine What’s Down There

Given we’re dealing with literally the oldest street on the continent, records are spotty and it’s hard to say exactly what’s under the pavement. That means digging a little bit here and there and sending down some cameras to get a good sense of the existing infrastructure. It’s important to note that it’s going to look like the project has started this summer, because there will be periods of construction and brief street closures, but the real disruption actually starts in Spring 2016.

Step Two: Gather Input and Information

I can’t stress how important it will be for the city and our consultants and contractors to actively engage with businesses and residents on this project. This isn’t just about how to replace pipes; it’s an opportunity for unprecedented placemaking.

The consultation process will be robust and wide-ranging, so it’s important we have an effective engagement process. Our staff are currently working on a plan to do just that. Downtown St. John’s, the area’s business association, will be a major voice in this discussion, as will be the Restaurant Association (RANL) and Destination St. John’s.  And, of course, we would do very well to ask the public who eat, drink, drive and walk on Water Street what we should do to keep people visiting the area while construction is ongoing (Hint: that’s you!).

Step Three: Create a Detailed Plan

The end result of this first phase will be a set of “Contract Documents” which include design drawings, plans for how to conduct the project, timelines, etc.  In order for the project to be successful, these documents must be comprehensive in nature. So, now is the time to gather input for managing the construction process, and for discussing what Water Street can look and feel like after the project is complete.

What to Expect

While we are just starting to draft the plans, here is a sense of what you can expect the project to look like: Each year, starting in 2016, construction will begin around May and run until October;  The construction will take place in sections, which will probably run “cove to cove” (e.g., from Baird’s Cove to Ayre’s Cove); Pedestrian traffic will be enabled (and encouraged!); Barriers will enclose the construction site to protect pedestrians; There will be opportunities for signage, possible viewing panes, and other uses of the barriers (did someone say murals?)

As you can see, this is truly an “all hands on deck” kind of project. The good news is that the engineers and other consultants working on this project are very keen to explore the options for mitigating construction impacts and envisioning the future of our most famous street.

So, off we go! What are your hopes, fears and ideas? Please share them with me at